Well then… the completion of the Rugby Championship for the year and the obligatory non-Rugby Championship games last week brings with it one very harsh reality for the southern hemisphere nations.
I always feel that the Springboks usually perform at their worst when they play the Pumas in the Rugby Championship, and this was proven again in their recent clash in Mendoza last weekend.
Most rugby fans will just say that the Pumas played well and the Boks played poorly. This in essence is true, but there has been a historical trend of poor Springboks performances in Argentina, and from a Bok-supporter’s perspective I can’t help but feel it ought to be different.
I am not saying the Boks should always beat the Pumas when playing in South America, but I do bemoan a string of historically lacklustre performances by the men in green and gold against Los Pumas.
The Springboks vs Pumas head-to-head stats show that the Boks have historically dominated against Los Pumas. When you look at the results in Argentina in isolation you get a very different story.
It all started in 1993 when Argentina beat South Africa 26-29 in Buenos Aires. The Boks of that era quickly learnt their lesson and went on to win all of their other encounters against the Pumas in Argentina in the 1990s.
The Pumas played the Boks nine times in Argentina since 2000, winning only twice and drawing once. They lost four of those games by only five points or less. This to me suggests that the Boks have historically always struggled against Los Pumas in Argentina.
In that light the recent Boks loss against Argentina should not come as a big a surprise, especially against a Pumas side that seems to be at their best and improving.
Is it possible that the Springboks have problems motivating themselves for their games in Argentina? Or are the Pumas just extra motivated to take on the Boks in their own backyard?
Could it be that the conditions in Argentina just don’t suit South African players? The Boks have proven to be poor travellers, not only to Argentina but also to Australia and New Zealand. The Springboks and and the Pumas have to travel more than their Aussie and Kiwi counterparts.
It is probably a combination of these factors and others that give the Pumas an advantage against the Boks in their Patagonian clashes.
Another important factor could be that the Springok teams that played in Argentina have often experimented with new combinations and players when they should’ve focused on winning first. Maybe Rassie Erasmus is just using this Rugby Championship as a chance to prepare for the 2019 World Cup.
Whatever the science of it is, I do believe the Boks should prepare better and respect their Argentinian opponents more. Most Boks supporters, including me, still think of the games against the Pumas as the easy fixtures of the Rugby Championship, and I imagine the players often have the same thought in the backs of their minds too.
I am taking nothing away from the Pumas’ recent victory over the Boks, though. Theirs was a well-deserved win, and you are only as good as your opponent allows you to be. Two teams took to the field and one was better.
It is clear to me if the Boks want to avoid having more salt rubbed into their wounds or getting the bulldozer in Mendoza, they will have to learn to lift their game in clashes with the Pumas.